The Eternal Daughter – Movie Review

The Eternal Daughter

  • Director: Joanna Hogg
  • Writers: Joanna Hogg
  • Starring: Tilda Swinton, Joseph Mydell, Carly-Sophia Davies

Grade: B+

Joanna Hogg made an international splash with her two semi-autobiographical Souvenir films, as she reevaluated her days in film school and a formative romantic relationship. Those films felt like a faithful collection of memories, not unlike this year’s cinematic memoirs from auteurs like James Gray and Steven Spielberg. Hogg’s latest, The Eternal Daughter, similarly pulls from her own experiences, but takes a much more experimental route. While the results may not be as groundbreaking or profound as her previous works, the film continues to establish Hogg as a creative force that knows how to craft an engaging story.

Shot in secret during lockdown in a Welsh manor in the countryside, the film is as minimalistic as they come: Tilda Swinton stars as Julie (clearly Hogg’s cinematic stand-in, as that was Honor Swinton Byrne’s character’s name in the Souvenir films) and also as her mother, Rosalind. Carly-Sophia Davies appears intermittently as the cantankerous hotel manager; she makes such a strong impression that I’d love to see an entire film centered around her. One of the film’s lingering mysteries is whether Julie and Rosalind are the only guests at this secluded hotel, which provides a puzzling meditation on Julie’s loneliness.

The Eternal Daugher; A24

Hogg utilizes the film as a kind of tribute to her own mother, as the hotel used to serve as Rosalind’s boarding school. Rosalind is haunted by some of the unpleasant memories housed within the walls that she hadn’t revisited since she was a child, and it provides an inner guilt for Julie. The film’s final twist makes the earlier conversations that much more poignant, as an exploration of an ever-present kind of grief that’s passed down from generations. It should come as no surprise that Swinton fully inhabits both roles – she’s appeared in almost all of Hogg’s films and has been her friend since film school – though it’s hard not to be distracted when the two characters are pointedly not often seen in the same frame.

Hogg’s autobiographical films always carry a haunted atmosphere, but The Eternal Daughter feels like Hogg’s ode to psychological horror films from the 1950s. Virtually every exterior shot is drenched in fog, lit sparsely by colorful, moody lights. And though no composer is listed in the credits, it’s filled with the atmospheric strings and flute that are staples films of this genre. 

The Eternal Daugher; A24

The film also doubles as a tribute to a specific place in Hogg’s memory, a way to memorialize a location that holds a special place in someone’s history. One scene later in the film sees Julie conversing with Bill (Joseph Mydell), the groundskeeper, who harbors his own memories of the hotel with his wife, who was the chef. Julie’s creative guilt is another understated theme for the film, as she struggles to write her next movie, but only receives inspiration whenever her mother delves into her darker memories from her childhood and early adulthood.

For all its strengths, The Eternal Daughter isn’t a film that will likely go down easily with mainstream audiences. It’s a mostly internalized drama that moves slowly with stakes that will be hard to parse even with independent film enthusiasts. Yes, the film runs the risk of alienating audiences in its specificity, but whereas The Souvenir showcased toxic romance, The Eternal Daugher will surely resonate with anyone that’s had a difficult relationship with their parents. It wasn’t until a second viewing that the film fully unlocked itself for me (an avid fan of Hogg’s previous works). But Hogg undoubtedly proves that she’s a master at visualizing her internal struggles that she’s held onto throughout the years.

The Eternal Daughter will be released in theaters on December 2.

OSCAR POTENTIAL:

  • None. Sadly, Hogg’s profile is too small and, even with the draw of Swinton in dual roles, distributor A24 will prioritize its other films before campaigning for this.

One thought on “The Eternal Daughter – Movie Review”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s